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How Increase in Altitude in places like Madrid impacts Courts, Playing conditions and Tennis players?

madrid masters madrid masters 2013 mutua madrid open madrid madrid 2013 madrid altitude baseliners single handed backhand fast courts red clay blue clay high altitude discussion on tennis courts indoor courts on high altitude

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#1 Vibhuism


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Posted 02 May 2013 - 01:48 AM

Hey all,

As you all know, the next ATP1000 & WTA Premier Mandatory tournament is the Mutua Madrid Open starting this Monday, May 6th, 2013. Last year (2012), as an experiment Blue Clay was used & this year, we are back to the traditional Red clay. If you are interested to know how Blue Clay and Red Clay differ, then read it right here. Players have started reaching Madrid and have started practicing for the Mutua Madrid Open.




sugarmama red clay.jpeg



Picture of Maria Sharapova practicing on the red clay at Mutua Madrid Open, 2013

Madrid is situated at an Altitude of almost 667 meters or 2188 Feet above the sea level. Though, Madrid isn't the highest European City, but one thing is for sure, that of all the cities where the European Clay Court season is played (namely Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Paris), Madrid is situated at a much higher altitude than the combined altitude of all these 4 cities.





 (A Sunset Picture of Madrid taken by my friend Miguel A. González)



So, let us discuss how different it is to play Tennis in a place like Madrid which is situated at a comparatively higher altitude?

Before I begin this discussion, let me firstly tell you that I have spent two years of my life at Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh, India) studying and playing Tennis. Its situated almost at an altitude of 1457m or 4780 feet from the sea level which is more than double of Madrid, so have a fair idea on this topic :).

We all were taught in Grade-5th, that an increase in altitude causes a decrease in air pressure & resistance. So, let us analyze point by point the impact of high Altitude.





i) Impact on Court Conditions ::



In areas which are closer to sea level, when the ball is hit through the air, Air pushes against the ball, thus slowing down the speed.


Decrease in air resistance in courts which are situated at higher altitude (elevation) causes the ball to travel much faster from the racquet.




In places like La Caja Mágica ("The Magic Box'"), also known as the Manzanares Park Tennis Center where Mutua Madrid Open (Madrid Masters) is played which are situated at a higher elevation of almost 2188 feet or 667 meters, air resistance is less, so for this very reason, in Madrid you always notice faster returns, faster serves and faster hits.






Picture of La Caja Mágica getting ready for the Mutua Madrid Open 2013




As the ball goes through the air faster, and therefore penetrates the court better. So, obviously, the courts even if they are clay court(be it blue or red clay) are faster than as compared to the courts situated near to the sea levels.


 In a nutshell as research engineer A. Terry Bahill brilliantly summarized it, "The distance a ball travels is inversely related the Air density".

ii) Impact on Spin :::

 If you have been carefully studying the pattern of play of Rafa Nadal (arguably one of the greatest clay court player of all times), besides his great agility, the biggest reason for his success has been his 'Top Spin' embedded forehand.  

But, because of the decreased air resistance on higher altitude areas, Topspin results in more severe movements & thus, causing more unforced errors unlike other low altitude courts & that pretty much takes away the advantage of Topspin.


(If you have studied Physics, this should explain you better). This is due to the lesser Magnus Force (F) at higher altitudes. With smaller Magnus Forces acting on the ball, less flight deviation due to spin will occur.


F= 1/2 p*V*A*L

where ρ = density of the fluid or air in this case , A = Altitude, L = lift coefficient









iii) High Altitude Balls being heavier :::

Also, as we recently discussed, Madrid Masters (Mutua Madrid Open) uses high pressure balls, which are bigger in diameter. The size of the ball is almost 6 percent larger than regular balls. This slows the ball as it travels through the air so that its speed will be closer to what it would be at lower altitudes.


This way there is about the same amount of air resistance on a 'high altitude' ball at high altitudes as on a 'low altitude' ball at low altitudes.


Though the balls are pressurized to the same degree, the core of these balls are not as dense, resulting in more surface area being exposed to the Air pressure thus resulting in a lower bounce as compared to the normal balls.


wilson high altitude.jpg


Picture of Wilson High altitude Tennis balls




iv) Which type of players get benefited from these changes ::

a. As we discussed, the higher the altitude the faster the ball will travel, so naturally, it benefits the players who can serve & volley and come to the net more often.

b. One of the main reasons why you always find Single handed back hand players like Roger Federer having more unforced errors on normal clay courts is because the bounce is on the higher side. Once the ball goes above the shoulder level on the backhand side, it is very difficult to control the ball if you are a single handed backhand player.

Just do a mock test of what I mean, try to play a single handed backhand shot to a ball that is higher than your left shoulder and then, you will understand what I meant by it being difficult for a single handed backhand player.

So, as we discussed that as the high pressure balls have a lower bounce, so that makes it easier for the single handed backhand players to control their backhands on the courts at higher altitudes like at Madrid..






v) Why Baseliners find it difficult to cope up with conditions on a higher altitude ::

As we discussed, higher altitude means an decrease in Oxygen level. This makes it harder to breathe for players that are used to playing from the baseline and used to run more around the baseline.



In a sport as tough as Tennis, regular Oxygen consumption is must for players who run like Athletes. For sure, playing on higher altitude has a huge strain on body and that's why, when we were discussing whether Rafa Nadal will play at Mutua Madrid Open, 2013, we had discussed this in great details.





vi) Why shouldn't all courts that are situated on higher altitude be Indoors?

Best solution to avoid all that we discussed above has to be playing on an Indoor court. Indoor courts allow for a "true" game of tennis. There is a constant temperature, no wind, sun or rain.If all tennis were to be played indoors we would have a more standardized game. Every tournament on the world circuit would be similar; the weather conditions give tennis its character.

But, wouldn't the sport then become monotonous and absolutely the same? So, for sure, Tennis played on different courts and conditions makes it entertaining for fans as well as the players. Would the sport have any charm if the same player kept winning every single time he entered the court?




So, in a nutshell, on Tennis courts which are situated at Higher altitudes like Madrid, the ball does travel faster which benefits natural serve & volley kind of play & its hard for baseliners to adjust at such conditions.


PS: A special thanks to one of our friends from Tokyo & a keen reader of this forum Kiyoshi Fujioka for motivating me to do this post :). Feel free to drop in your comments and feed-back about this topic.


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#2 Guest_Kim_*

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 01:59 PM

Great post & great explanation. For sure, it now makes sense why Roger Federer has played his best clay court Tennis at Madrid.

what makes Madrid so very special for me is how all of a sudden, you notice Sunshine, then Rain & then again Clouds.

Madrid besides having this great Tennis tournament is a great place & having seen the entire 2009 tournament, I look forward to 2013 Madrid Open as well.

#3 Kishore Sharma

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 04:30 PM

Nice explanation.

For all our readers, I live in Jabalpur city , Its in the state of Madhya Pradesh & situated at an altitude of almost 1500 feet from the sea levels.

Though, yes, it might be not as high as Madrid, but for sure, after having played Tennis for the last 12 years here , I have a fair idea as to how high altitude impacts your style of playing Tennis.

The ball does sizzle through at a much faster rate. Also, the bounce on clay court tends to be on the lower side, which makes it convenient  for Single Handed BackHand players like me to be more aggressive & have lesser backhand enforced errors.

Rest as explained, we also do use high altitude  Tennis balls at times, need to say that they tend to impact arms & wrists even more. Every one who practices with  me does feel a bit of pain in arms & wrists when ever we use High altitude balls.

As we are not situated that high, so we prefer to use the normal balls as that makes playing & practicing much more easier & convenient.

So, yes, no doubt, Madrid is the fastest clay court of all, so that's why in the last 4 years, Roger Federer has won 2 titles , reached finals once in 2010 & lost in semis at 2011 & more over, has even defeated Rafa once in the finals of 2009.    

God I love Roger Federer, Thank you so much for giving us such a genius :).



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#4 Wendy_redRobin


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Posted 02 May 2013 - 05:23 PM

An interesting and well explained topic.

Altitude is not something that had crossed my mind before in relation to how it affects the behaviour of the ball, thinking more of players and their reaction to conditions.

I shall now watch even more keenly to see how they cope with this, though on the small video replay windows it is sometimes as much as I can do to see the ball .... ;)

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#5 Anna


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Posted 02 May 2013 - 07:07 PM

Great explanation. Just to let you all know about the elevations of other cities where in European clay court tourneys are held -

1. Monte Carlo The average elevation of Monte-Carlo, Monaco is 60 meters. 

2. Barcelona 12 m (39 ft)

3. Rome is 60 feet

4. Roland Garros, Paris  115 feet.

So, clearly Madrid Masters is the odd one. That's why, often you hear that Madrid isn't the right tournament to be practicing before the French Open.

The players criticizing are right in a way, as the heavy balls & the high altitude does favor the players who like Fast courts.

But, then again because of the different conditions & court makes the Tennis calendar more interesting.

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#6 Inez


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Posted 02 May 2013 - 09:35 PM

Excellent post as always. Liked the scientific equation explaining why spin is negated on higher altitudes , must say after a long-2 time read a scientific explanation in a sporting post :-).



Okay, now, a bit of explanation from me :::::



I have spent five Years of my life at Madrid & have the best knowledge of local conditions. Also, I have played a lot of tennis in Madrid & also, received coaching there.



The clay courts do tend to play faster than normal. Though, if I have to quantity the difference, I will call it about 8 to 10% faster than here in Barcelona (my current location).




Also, let me tell you a brief history of this tournament :::



Though, the Madrid Masters got shifted to Madrid in 2002 , but from 2002 to 2008, it was on indoor Hard court surface where in the weather or altitude conditions don't play any part.




From 2009 onwards, Madrid has been played on outdoor clay at this present arena.



2009 Federer won by beating Nadal in Finals.



2010 - Rafa won by beating Federer.



2011- Djokovic won by beating Rafa.



2012- Federer won by beating Berdych in the finals on that Ion Tiriac's experimental blue clay.



So,Madrid is only one of those rare clay court tournaments where in Rafa Nadal has lost 3 times. Also, Federer has beaten Rafa twice on clay in 12 matches on clay & one of those wins was at the 2009 final.



So, this tells you that, Madrid conditions are faster than any other place & for sure higher altitude & the heavier balls play their part in the outcome.

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#7 Kristina


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Posted 02 May 2013 - 09:48 PM

Great explanation of all the issues that relate to high altitude and playing Tennis there in.



So, I am here by adding the videos of all the finals of the last four years so that every one can make out about the fast conditions.








Federer won defeating Rafa (notice the single handed backhands of Federer)














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#8 Kristina


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Posted 02 May 2013 - 09:48 PM

2011 Madrid Masters





Djokovic won by beating Rafa














Federer won by defeating Berdych on Blue Clay



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#9 Guest_Jimmy_*

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 10:05 PM

Great explanation. loved reading every minute details. Just wanted to know, why was the Blue Clay so slippery? Any chance, we might get to see Blue clay getting used at Madrid ever again?

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Posted 03 May 2013 - 12:00 PM

Great article and great scientific explanation. I am a Tennis coach in Denver which is at an altitude of 1610 m or 5280 feet. Here, the ball flies even more than any where else. That's why, chip & charge is the best strategy here.

@Jimmy: well, I gotta say the experiment of Blue Clay failed because the last year was very overcast & they should have made the Blue clay earlier. The courts were laid about two or three months before the tourney and that for me was a very wrong move.

as I said, the rainy weather didn't allow the Blue clay court to dry up and that's why, the courts were so slippery. No, I don't see Blue clay returning back in the near future.




Having said that, the courts during the evening sessions will surely be slippery this year also. I have been saying it since 2009, if Madrid is to have any masters tournament, it needs to be indoors. Outdoor clay will always be slippery there. 

#11 Wendy_redRobin


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Posted 03 May 2013 - 12:28 PM

A thought .. Roger has been practicing at Felsberg in Switzerland, which stands at an altitude of 1,877 feet (572 metres)

Not only was this good for him to have some time at home, it may also have helped him regarding the altitude issue ....

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#12 Guest_Kim_*

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Posted 04 May 2013 - 12:01 PM

good point about Fed practicing at high altitude. But, it remains to be seen how match fit he is after a 2 month rest.

the first 3 matches will be crucial.

#13 Wendy_redRobin


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Posted 04 May 2013 - 09:51 PM

Hopefully Fed's team have tested him in practice to build him up to match fitness .... after all that's their job! As you say the early matches will be crucial.

..... Can't wait :)

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